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Opening Remarks by SG Rodney Taylor for the Meeting on Proactive Actions to Prevent Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

Opening Remarks by SG Rodney Taylor for the Meeting on Proactive Actions to Prevent Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

Delivered by Rodney Taylor

Secretary-General, Caribbean Telecommunications Union

22 May 2024

Trinidad Hilton

Group photo of the Prevention of Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Meeting

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning, and welcome to this meeting on Prevention of Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation as we seek to develop standards of collaboration in countering this crime. This meeting is being hosted by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime with the support of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.  When Mrs. María de Lourdes Gutiérrez Ortiz Monasterio from UNODC approached us seeking support to host this forum, we without hesitation, agreed that this was an important initiative to which we would lend our support.  Maria subsequently presented to our Executive Council members in Belize in April and I am pleased to see the level of regional participation here today.

I am honoured to address this group, and I see many familiar faces, comprised of  advocates for children’s rights, cybersecurity experts, law enforcement officials, policymakers, and representatives from regional and international organizations and the private sector, in particular, network operators and internet service providers.

This issue of online child abuse and exploitation is one of the biggest challenges of our time because we are speaking about the most vulnerable in our societies.  And I will not seek to single out any particular country because it is a pervasive issue for all of us.

This crime not only devastates the lives of children but also inflicts damage on families and communities. Information and communication technology is advancing at a rapid pace.  The buzz word now is AI, or artificial intelligence. As technology evolves, so too do the methods employed by perpetrators, making our mission to protect children ever more urgent and complex.

Our purpose here is to develop proactive strategies that prevent these crimes from occurring and to establish robust standards of collaboration that enhance our collective ability to respond when it happens.

As we deliberate over these two days I think that it is important for us to focus on prevention through education and awareness. Preventing online child sexual abuse and exploitation begins with education. We must equip parents, educators, and children with the knowledge and tools to recognize, avoid, and report potential threats. This includes comprehensive digital literacy programs that teach children how to navigate the online world safely and responsibly. Raising awareness about the signs of online grooming and exploitation is crucial to empower communities to act swiftly and decisively.

Technology, as we know, can be misused to perpetrate abuse, but it also holds the key to finding solutions. We must invest in advanced technologies that can detect and prevent online abuse before it happens. This includes developing tools to identify and remove harmful content, enhancing age verification systems, and utilizing artificial intelligence to monitor and analyse online behaviour patterns.  This involves collaboration with tech companies to implement these technologies responsibly and effectively.  A number of these companies are private sector members of the CTU and, coming out of this process this week, I think it would be useful to further engage them on this issue, which I am sure they are already cognisant of.

In addition to building awareness and leveraging technological tools, it is also important to have effective legal frameworks in place to deter, identify, and prosecute offenders. We must ensure that our laws are comprehensive, up-to-date, and harmonized across the CARICOM Single ICT Space so that there are no safe havens for perpetrators. Law enforcement agencies must be equipped with the training, resources, and international cooperation necessary to track and apprehend criminals who operate on the dark web and under the cover of anonymity. This includes fostering cross-border collaboration and information sharing to dismantle networks that exploit children.

The fight against online child sexual abuse and exploitation requires a collective effort. Governments, law enforcement, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and international bodies must work together seamlessly. We need to establish clear standards and protocols for collaboration, ensuring that each stakeholder knows their role and how to effectively contribute to our shared mission. Public-private partnerships can play a vital role in pooling resources and expertise to enhance our protective measures.

I will close my brief remarks by asking for our commitment to extend beyond prevention and enforcement; to include the support and rehabilitation of survivors. Providing comprehensive care, including psychological support, legal assistance, and safe spaces for recovery, is essential to help survivors rebuild their lives. We must listen to their voices and incorporate their experiences into our strategies to ensure that our actions are truly effective.

I want to thank each of you for your support here in taking the time to participate and for your commitment to creating a safer digital world for our children. The stakes are incredibly high. Every step we take toward prevention, every standard of collaboration we establish, brings us closer to a future where children can explore the digital world free from fear, harm and exploitation.

Thank you, and I look forward to a productive and impactful meeting.